Understanding Illinois’ Contributory Negligence Law

When a person is injured as a result of another person or company’s negligent, careless, reckless or intentional actions, then the injured party, known as the plaintiff, can file a lawsuit against the responsible party seeking damages, or compensation. A personal injury lawyer in Chicago can guide you through the process. But it’s important for injured parties to understand that you may not receive all of the damages you’re seeking if the judge or jury determines that you bear some responsibility for your accident.

Personal Injury Damages

Taking a step back, it helps to understand what damages are and how they are calculated. Damages is the legal word for compensation or money, and damages are intended to compensate the injured party for losses they’ve experienced as a result of their injuries. Damages are typically separated into three categories.

Understanding Illinois Contributory Negligence Law

Economic or compensatory damages reimburse you for actual, out-of-pocket expenses you’ve already incurred as a result of your injuries, as well as any future losses you might incur. Some types economic damages are obvious: Past, present and future medical bills would be included when your Chicago personal injury attorney estimates how much you deserve in the compensatory damages. So would personal property — a car or clothing, for example — that was damaged or destroyed in your accident. Lost wages if you’re unable to work and the cost of hiring a home health aide if necessary would also be included. Some types of damages are more difficult to calculate. Suppose, for example, you’re no longer able to work 40 hours a week because of your injuries. Compensatory damages would take into account your lost earning potential over the course of your lifetime.

Non-economic damages compensate you for things that are more difficult to value. This would include pain and suffering, loss of companionship or consortium, any disability or disfigurement you’ve experience, and any diminished enjoyment of life you’ve experienced as a result of your injuries.

Finally, there are punitive damages. Punitive damages — which aren’t available in all Illinois personal injury cases — are intended to punish the person or company responsible for your injuries. Typically, your Chicago personal injury attorney will have to show that the defendant acted in an intentional or grossly negligent manner and that led to your injury. Some states ban or limit punitive damages, and Illinois’s legislature has tried unsuccessfully to limit them in medical malpractice cases, but currently there is no cap on punitive damages in the state of Illinois.

Your personal injury attorney will review your medical records and injury-related expenses, consult with experts who can help estimate the total long-term costs of your injuries and then calculate how much you deserve to receive in economic damages, non-economic damages and punitive damages. That amount will be used in settlement negotiations or if your case goes to trial.

Contributory Negligence Explained

Under Illinois law, even if your personal injury lawsuit is successful, you may not receive all of the money you think you deserve. That’s because Illinois has something known as a modified comparative fault rule. Under this rule, the judge or jury hearing your lawsuit must also determine whether you share any responsibility for your accident and, if you do bear some of the blame, how much of the responsibility you bear.

Imagine, for example, you were injured in an automobile accident and were rear ended by another driver. If you were stopped at a stop sign when the driver rear ended you, your Chicago personal injury attorney could argue that you bear no responsibility because you were obeying traffic laws and the person who rear ended you is entirely to blame. In that case, you would receive 100 percent of the damages to which you are entitled.

Now imagine that you were stopped at that same stop sign, but your rear brake lights were burned out, and the person who rear ended you thought your car was moving. In that case, the judge or jury might decide that your 40 percent to blame for your accident. Any damages to which you were entitled would be reduced by 40 percent, which is equivalent to your share of the blame. There is, however, a big catch: If the judge or jury decides that you share more than 50 percent of the blame for your accident, then you’ll be barred from receiving any money in connect with your accident.

Personal Injury Lawyers for Chicago Accident Victims

If you’ve been injured in an accident and someone else is to blame, it can be a traumatic and expensive experience. You may be facing steep medical bills, lost income and other expenses. Call the Chicago personal injury lawyers at Cogan & Power, P.C., at (312) 477-2500 for a free initial consultation. We will review the details of your accident or injury and help determine if you have grounds for a lawsuit.